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2:36 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Okay, good afternoon. We’ll start things off today with Georgia.

The United States is deeply troubled by the arrest of opposition leader Nika Melia and other members of the opposition in Georgia.

In other news today, the Secretary announced the inaugural International Anticorruption Champions Award, recognizing 12 honorees ranging from a government auditor from Micronesia, to a journalist from the Kyrgyz Republic, to a civic leader from Guinea.

These 12 courageous individuals deserve recognition for their tireless work to defend transparency, combat corruption, and ensure accountability in their own countries.

Corruption’s impact on the quality of governance, security, and economic stability is well understood. It erodes the trust and confidence of citizens in their public institutions and puts an anchor around the necks of developing economies.

The United States remains committed to anticorruption efforts around the world, and we recognize that we will only be successful by working in concert with dedicated partners and countries also striving towards fulfilling international anticorruption standards.

So with that, Matt, I’ll take your question.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just on the Georgia thing, before I get to my main question, just – is there more to that comment that you’re just – only that you’re deeply troubled? Is there any —

MR PRICE: Well, we covered this a little bit last week, so let me recap essentially what we said then. We are deeply concerned by political developments in Georgia. We, again, call on all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions or rhetoric that could escalate tensions or result in violence.

We urge the Georgian Government to act in line with its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and to reinforce its commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial systems are free of political bias. The United States supports a democratic, secure, and prosperous Georgia. We will continue to work with Georgia to promote the rule of law and accountable institutions.

QUESTION: Okay, on to my – what I wanted to start with, Egypt. And I know that you guys put a readout of the Secretary – you put out a readout of the Secretary’s call with the foreign minister – but in that readout, it talks about how the Secretary told the foreign minister that human rights would be central to the relationship, the U.S.-Egypt relationship. And I’m just wondering if you can expand on that. What does that actually – what does that mean? How does it manifest itself? Because, as you know, there was a bit of criticism just a week ago when you guys went ahead and approved this almost $200 million sale of missiles to Egypt in the midst of a crackdown on dissidents.

MR PRICE: Matt, what I would say is to reiterate something that President Biden first said on the campaign trail. I believe it was in October of this year. He made the point, and it’s a point that applies to his now administration, that human rights, our values, principles that are universal, will always be – we will always carry them with us in our bilateral relationships. That includes, importantly, when it comes to our closest security partners. We have, of course, discussed some of them in this briefing room – the idea that relationships can be multifaceted. We have interests, but we, of course, have our values. We’re never going to discount our values in pursuit of our interests. And that is true in the case of Egypt.

The President and the Secretary, they’ve been clear that democracy and human rights must be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. The State Department consistently discusses with the Government of Egypt our concerns over lack of respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. We spoke last week – multiple occasions – about the detention of the family members of Mohamed Soltan.

So, clearly, these issues will always be in our bilateral relationship. You saw that reflected in the readout today.

QUESTION: But I just – but I guess my question is does that – does that manifest itself in anything in the short term that – in terms of an actual policy decision, or is it just telling the Egyptians that you’re not happy about how they’re handling it?

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: I mean, what is the tangible result of human rights being central to the relationship?

MR PRICE: Well, the tangible result is taking place every day here at Main State and also in our embassy in Cairo, but also in embassies around the world. Our State Department officials are raising these issues. They are supporting human rights defenders. We talked about 12 of them in the context of the anticorruption awards awardees that we announced today. And we can talk about it in the context of Egypt – the fact that it was raised in this, the Secretary’s first call with his Egyptian counterpart, I think speaks to the priority we attach to this issue. Of course, Matt, you’ll probably be the first to remind me that words are no substitute for deeds, and so you can see those deeds – well, you would see those deeds if you could see the work on the part of what is going on in our embassy in Cairo, what’s going on here.

QUESTION: In the first call I’m happy to take – I’ll – I just want to know if there was any – if there’s anything like in the immediate term after this call and him saying that it’s going to be central, if there’s any shift, any – anything substantive that we can actually see other than just the readout of him saying it.

MR PRICE: Well, certainly I hope what we see is what happens on the part of the Egyptian Government. That’s where we want to see improvement. That is where we are making this point to them.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PRICE: Great. Yes, please.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MR PRICE: Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: I was wondering what you guys have to say about the report of the IAEA saying that they are deeply concerned about the possible presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in Iran, and also, of course, on the decision today to go forward with restricting the access for the inspectors despite everything that happened last weekend (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but we have, in fact, seen the IAEA’s latest quarterly report on Iran. It remains restricted until the board decides it can be released publicly.

We fully support, as I said yesterday, the director general’s efforts to ensure full implementation of IAEA verification in Iran, and we have full faith and confidence in the director general and the IAEA more broadly.

We wouldn’t comment on the details of this report until it’s released publicly, but what we can say is that – and it’s certainly no secret – is that Iran continues to take steps in excess of its JCPOA limits. Iran has also recently taken steps to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, including the Additional Protocol. You heard the director general speak to this over the weekend; you heard me speak to this yesterday as well. We have underscored our concern that Iran is moving in the wrong direction. It is moving further away from its nuclear constraints.

Our objective in all of this remains to seek an outcome in which Iran and the United States resume compliance with their commitments under the JCPOA. These steps by Iran, the steps that we have spoken to, that the Iranians have spoken to publicly, are clearly moving in the wrong direction.

We also know that the IAEA continues to investigate a number of serious outstanding issues related to potential undeclared nuclear material in Iran, to your question. We insist that Iran cooperate with the IAEA to resolve these issues without further delay. We’ll be in close consultation with the IAEA Board of Governors to discuss appropriate action in support of the agency’s efforts.

And all the while, we have made clear that the best, the most sustainable, the most effective way to place limits, verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, is through a negotiated solution to this. The proposition that the President has put on the table has been known for quite some time now, even before he was President of the United States, the shorthand being compliance for compliance. If Iran resumes its full compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States will be prepared to do the same. That is a necessary but not sufficient step. It’s not sufficient because we, from there, would like to lengthen and strengthen the deal. We would like to negotiate follow-on agreements to address other areas of Iran’s malign influence, including its ballistic missile program.

The first step in all of this, a natural outgrowth from what we have been saying for some time, is to meet with the Iranians under the auspices of the P5+1. Don’t have an update for you there. Obviously, we made our offer known last week. We did that in tandem with our European partners.

I’ve made this point before, but there has been a lot of ink spilled and attention paid to the offer that we put forward. I think in many ways what was more noteworthy was the joint statement that emanated from the E3 and the Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken. It was a clear signal that after weeks of consultations, weeks of coordination with our European allies, our closest allies, we are now on the same page. We are walking in lockstep with them down this path of diplomacy. It is no longer – we are no longer working at cross-purposes. We are working hand-in-glove with our European allies, and we believe that gives us a position of strength when it comes to these negotiations, and we believe it provides the best path forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to change topics if it’s okay with my colleagues.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran, quickly?

QUESTION: Yeah, staying on Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll take Rosiland, and then we’ll —

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Congressional Republicans had criticized the JCPOA, one, because it should have been a treaty in their view. And now they’re trying to put pressure on the administration to not give in to Iran’s repeated demands to lift the sanctions that were imposed by the previous administration, saying the U.S. should not be in the business of rewarding bad behavior.

In the past couple of hours, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, when asked, said that he doesn’t think it would be necessarily a bad idea to remove those sanctions in order to get the U.S. and Iran talking again. Is this a topic of discussion between the administration and members of Congress to perhaps get some political cover to consider at least lifting some of the sanctions to get this process moving? Is this simply a redline – and I use that term – that’s a term of art – that the administration isn’t going to do, that Iran has to come back into compliance, no ifs, ands, or buts?

MR PRICE: Well, Rosiland, I would start by making the point that Iran moved away, started to move away from its constraints under the JCPOA, after the May 2018 decision to leave the JCPOA. When the agreement was adhered to by all sides, it was working. It was working according to the IAEA; it was working according to this building; it was working according to the Intelligence Community, as well as according to our international partners. That is why we continue to believe that the JCPOA forms an appropriate basis to start to hold those discussions, to lengthen and strengthen the deal that of course was concluded in 2015, and to build on it.

Now, when it comes to the consultations you referenced, what we have said really since January 20th is that the first step in this process is to undertake consultations with our allies – and I’ve spoken to the E3 in this context – with our partners, and of course, there were – there are other members of the P5+1, of course, who are not treaty allies; there are other interested parties around the world, including our partners in the region – and with members of Congress. And those consultations with members of Congress have been ongoing. We want to make sure that – well, I should say that we know that our approach will have the most legitimacy and prospects for success when we have that support, not only from our partners and allies, but from key members of Congress.

When it comes to the proposals that have been put on the table, our retort here is quite simple. We offered last week to meet with the Iranians. We said we’d be willing to meet with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1, because that’s where we believe these issues are best discussed and adjudicated. There’s been posturing in Tehran; there has been posturing elsewhere. We think that discussions, negotiations, engaging in that clear-eyed, principled diplomacy together with our closest partners – the E3 in this case, along with the other P5+1 members – that’s the place where we want to have those discussions.

Will.

QUESTION: One more on Iran?

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The South Korean foreign ministry said today that it has reached an agreement in principle with the Iranians to unfreeze some of the oil money that has been frozen by U.S. sanctions, but that it’s pending U.S. approval. Is that the case, and are you involved in discussions with the South Koreans to unfreeze that money?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have a comment precisely on that, precisely because there has been no transfer of funds, as you alluded to. We wouldn’t want to comment on bilateral negotiations with other countries. You’ve heard me speak to our close consultations with allies and partners. And of course, the South Koreans, or Republic of Korea, a key ally, a key treaty ally, and very much a partner when it comes to sanctions enforcement across the board.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise, it wouldn’t come as a shock, I’m sure, to hear you say that we do discuss these issues broadly with the South Koreans, but I wouldn’t want to characterize it beyond that.

Anything else on Iran? Are we ready to move on?

QUESTION: Iran.

MR PRICE: One more? Yeah.

QUESTION: Sort of Iran. Former Secretary of State —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Sort of Iran? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, it’s a Mike Pompeo Iran question. Former Secretary of State Pompeo was on Fox News today, and said that current Biden administration officials during the Trump years had sought to undermine Trump’s Iran policy and called it “un-American,” including communications that Fox News said that they had with Foreign Minister Zarif. And I wondered if you wanted to respond to former Secretary Pompeo?

MR PRICE: That Fox News said they had with – they reported – sorry, I didn’t understand that part.

QUESTION: Fox News had reported on – some of these, I think, were previously known –interactions with Foreign Minister Zarif that occurred during the Trump administration. Secretary – former Secretary Pompeo was asked about them today on Fox, said that those people had been trying to undermine Trump policy and called it “un-American,” and I wondered if you wanted to respond to that.

MR PRICE: I don’t want to respond to that directly. What I would say is that everyone in this administration shares the view of the President of the United States that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. I wouldn’t want to speak for the previous administration, but I would hazard a guess that they believe the same – believed the same, I should say – that Iran should never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. It is also no secret that this President and this administration have and key principals had profound disagreements with the way in which the previous administration sought to bring that about.

Even in this briefing, you have heard me say that while the JCPOA was in effect – while it was – it’s still in effect, of course, but while all sides were in full compliance, Iran was living up to its commitments. And that is not my opinion. That was the assessment of this building, of our Intelligence Community, of international weapons inspectors on the part of the IAEA. And we say – when we say that Iran was living up to its commitment, the commitment that Iran had when it was in full compliance and full performance of its JCPOA requirements was strict limitations on its nuclear activities, a strict verification and monitoring regime – in fact, the strictest ever negotiated – and a prohibition – indefinite, permanent prohibition – on Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

That is why this administration continues to believe that the JCPOA forms an appropriate basis to begin broader discussions, to begin broader discussions for lengthening and strengthening the deal, and then of course, as I said before, negotiating follow-on agreements. There – this has always been a – this has been a contentious issue, but I think every good-faith actor can come to this issue in this country believing that American interests should always be put first, that Iran should never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. And we believe the best way to do that is through principled, clear-eyed diplomacy.

QUESTION: Ned, the previous administration’s position was that even if Iran was complying, in full compliance, the agreement, the deal, was so flawed that it would still give them a pathway to develop a bomb, because of the sunset clauses, because of the end of certain sanctions that – some of which began in September, which you guys have withdrawn the snapback. So I mean, can you at least acknowledge there’s a fundamental difference in the – in how this administration views it and how the previous administration viewed it? I mean, they thought – the previous administration’s argument was that even if Iran completely complies, it’s still a bad deal, because they can still enrich – the limits on enrichment, the limits on centrifuges and everything get lifted over a period of time. So —

MR PRICE: Matt, a couple things were undeniably true, and I say that with the caveat that it’s, of course, no secret that the previous administration appeared to have a very different view of the utility, the general utility, of the JCPOA. But a couple things were true. Before the JCPOA went into effect, Iran’s breakout time, the time it would need to develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon was estimated in a handful of months. When Iran was in full compliance, in full performance of its JCPOA commitments, that time went up to a full year. Also, Iran is permanently barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Well, but hold on. But that permanent bar – okay. That – you’re talking about the fatwa from —

MR PRICE: No, I’m not talking about the fatwa. I’m talking about the nonproliferation treaty. So there is a permanent —

QUESTION: Well, they just suspended their cooperation with the Additional Protocol.

MR PRICE: But the Additional Protocols is separate from the NPT.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR PRICE: But – so – okay. Sounds like I’ve answered the question.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple of questions, if you would indulge me, on the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE: Uh huh.

QUESTION: First on Secretary Blinken’s conversation yesterday, phone call with his counterpart, the Israeli Ashkenazi. And he emphasized that the Biden administration adheres to the two-state solution. Could you tell us where does this administration envision this two-state solution to be? And is East Jerusalem part of it?

MR PRICE: Well, I would say that the Secretary was pleased to speak with his Israeli counterpart. They’ve had multiple conversations at this point. We’ve said before the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security and we’ll work to strengthen all aspects of the Israeli bilateral, bilateral relationship.

When it comes to the two-state solution, the Biden administration believes that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state. That is precisely why the two-state solution continues to be the crux of how we view the conflict and where we believe – and how we believe the conflict should be resolved. Now, of course, I don’t think anyone is saying that a negotiated two-state solution is in the offing in the coming hours or days. We are realistic. But at the same time, we believe it provides a durable framework for the end state that we’ve talked about.

QUESTION: So much has changed. I mean, do you feel that you have leverage with the current Israeli prime minister, who’s running for re-election very, very soon? I mean, is it really worthwhile to speak with him about not taking unilateral actions? I mean, do you see him to be amenable to whatever issues that you raise with him on – regarding the two-state solution?

MR PRICE: Well, I think this goes back to the issue I was speaking to before, that the United States – we’re the world’s strongest, most powerful country. We can pursue and accomplish multiple things at once. We have interests and we have values. Those things need not be inconsistent, and in fact, our interests are our values and vice versa. So when it comes to the two-state solution, our values are at play on both sides, frankly. We believe Israel should continue to be a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, we believe that the Palestinians deserve their legitimate aspirations for statehood and independence. So we bring our values with us in every relationship across the board. We talked about it in Egypt, we’ve talked about it in other countries in this room, and it’s certainly true when it comes to Israel as well.

QUESTION: Right. Just – if you indulge me just a little bit – but this prime minister has had a tradition during every elections, almost every year, where he would take unilateral action to satisfy a very fundamentalist base and so on – the settlers – I mean, let’s be open and so on. If he takes such actions, are you telling him not to at all? And will there be consequences if he did?

MR PRICE: I think – and I may have said this in response to one of your previous questions – but we have been very clear from this room and more broadly. We believe it is critical for Israel to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut those efforts to advance a two-state solution. Again, we believe in the centrality and the premise of a two-state solution. We don’t want to see either side take a step that would put that further out of reach.

QUESTION: On COVID, please. Just one last thing on COVID: I know that my colleague from Haaretz asked you last week and he suggested that the Israelis are allowing 100,000 vaccines to go in, but until today, really, nothing has happened. Are you following up on that? I mean, the Israelis seem to be withholding – as a matter of fact preventing these vaccines from going to Gaza, going to the West Bank, and so on. What is your position on this? And especially with the World Bank report yesterday saying that the situation is really quite disastrous there and it needs to be quick remedy.

MR PRICE: Well, we believe it’s important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccine in the weeks ahead. I think I talked about this – I guess it was on Friday. We believe it’s important for their own – for their own needs. It’s important for Israel, Israel’s health and security as well. But there’s also a broader dynamic at play. As long as COVID is uncontrolled in any part of the world, we can see the development of these variants that have posed such a challenge to us. That is why this administration has undertaken an effort to distribute a safe and effective vaccine to millions of Americans, millions of Americans per day on some days.

And it is also why we have made commitments on the international stage through Gavi, the $2 billion commitment the President announced late last week, followed by a longer-term additional $2 billion. That near-term $2 billion is – we have prioritized it precisely because we know that no American can ultimately be safe – or that this country cannot ultimately be safe – from COVID while it continues to run in the wild. And the more people we can vaccinate, of course, in this country, but the more people who are also vaccinated around the world, the quicker we can squash this pandemic and protect Americans here at home.

Rich.

QUESTION: Ned, you released earlier today a readout regarding the Secretary’s call with the Polish foreign minister. The foreign minister wrote that he and his Ukrainian counterpart were calling on the Biden administration to use all means at their disposal to prevent Nord Stream 2 from happening. Do you agree that this administration or will this administration agree that you guys are on the same page, that you’re using all at your disposal to stop Nord Stream 2?

MR PRICE: Well, Rich, I think we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but in the first weeks of this administration, we conducted the assessment that we submitted to Congress on Friday. And importantly to your question, we consulted closely with our European partners and our European allies. I think it is fair to say that none of our partners or allies would have been taken by surprise by what ultimately was in that assessment. When it comes to the Poles, we certainly share their concerns with Nord Stream 2 more broadly. That is why we have been unequivocal in saying that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It is a bad deal for Europe; it is a bad deal for Europe’s – in the context of Europe’s own stated energy goals.

So this is not – what we submitted on Friday was not the end of the story. It was a report that Congress required. Congress obviously has a legitimate interest in this. We will continue to keep Congress apprised, and if additional policy responses are warranted to fulfill legislative requirements – I would say fulfill our interests when it comes to Nord Stream 2 – we won’t hesitate to do that.

QUESTION: As part of your consultations, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter last week. They used open-source data to identify ships that were working on that project. They say they’ve not gotten a response. Is the State Department looking into that, the charges in that letter, and can they expect a response?

MR PRICE: So I’ll – I’m not familiar with the letter. I’ll let you know if we have anything specific to say on that, but, of course, in the report that we submitted to Congress last Friday and that we spoke to yesterday, we did identify the Russia-based KVT-Rus as an entity knowingly selling, leasing, or providing the vessel Fortuna in the construction of the pipeline. We determined that KVT-Rus was partaking in sanctionable activity precisely because it was engaged in pipe-laying or pipe-laying activities at depths of a hundred feet or more, which I understand to be the key criterion when it comes to PEESA, the legislation at play here.

So the – as I said before, the report on Friday was not the end of the story. It was just the latest chapter. We will continue to monitor, to evaluate, and if additional policy responses are warranted, we won’t hesitate to take them.

Simon.

QUESTION: On Myanmar. You’ve talked a lot about trying to get allies and especially allies in the region to pressure the Burmese military to change course. There’s an initiative by Indonesia and – an ASEAN initiative led by Indonesia, which is trying to push the Burmese military to stick by their promise of holding elections in a year, and apparently a trip planned the Indonesian foreign minister, which would be the first sort of engagement with the new military junta. Does that – does the U.S. sort of have a position on this? Because it seems in – contradictory of your position, which has been to try and get the junta to turn – the generals to sort of change course rather than saying yes, you can take power for a year as long as you hold elections after a year. So it seems to be out of whack there.

MR PRICE: Well, I understand that proposal remains hypothetical, and so we wouldn’t want to weigh in on this at this stage. What I would say – and I would reiterate something we have said ever since the coup on February 1st, something we determined to be a coup the very next day and that we’ve been unambiguous about ever since – Burmese – Burma’s military leaders must see that their attempts to replace Burma’s democratically elected government and its violent actions will have consequences. Of course, last night we announced an additional set of sanctions. There was a G7 statement that I’m sure you saw this morning. Again, the United States and our – some of our closest partners and allies speaking with one voice, condemning what’s going on.

And, of course, we’re not the only country taking action to promote accountability for the military leaders behind this coup. In fact, we applauded the recent sanctions, the sanctions announcements that were made by UK and Canada, as well as the announcement that the EU will look into its own measures.

So our message to the junta has not changed. They must relinquish power, they must restore the democratically elected government, and our message to the people of Burma has not changed. We stand with the people of Burma. We will continue, again, in concert with our likeminded allies and partners around the world to support their aspirations for the restoration of a civilian-led government in Burma.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Burma?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ned. Have the United States received formal request from the Burmese diplomats in the United States who are asking for asylum because they did not want to side with the military leaders there, they don’t want to go back home to – they want to be on the same side with the Burmese people. And separately, how would you characterize the Quad, other members in the Quad’s position regarding the sanctions? I was reading the statement after the Quad meeting. They called for a return for democracy but there’s no mention on the sanctions. Are they on the same page with the U.S. in regards to sanctions with – against military leaders? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, you saw from the readout that was issued after that meeting late last week, I suppose it was, that there is unanimity in the position that democracy, that civilian leadership must be restored to the people of Burma. We’ve heard that from the Quad. We’ve heard that from the G7. We’ve heard it from other countries individually, other constellations of countries together. We’ve heard it from the UN Security Council.

So the world is speaking with just about one voice when it comes to opposing the military coup in Burma and supporting the aspirations of the people of Burma to restore their civilian democratically elected government. The United States will continue to offer that rhetorical support but also to take action in furtherance of those goals. As I mentioned before, we announced two additional sanctions against two additional members of the military. Some of our close allies and partners have announced their own sanctions or their intent to sanction.

As I said in a very different context, when it comes to the United States, it’s certainly not the end of the story, and we will continue to pursue means on a policy basis to fulfill our goal to support the Burmese people and to restore democratic and civilian rule in Burma.

When it comes to Burmese diplomats in the United States, we’ll see if we can get you anything on that front.

QUESTION: Can we – can I please ask about Georgia’s political crisis? Thank you for the readout on the top of the briefing. Have the United States or the embassy or State Department have any communication with the current prime minister over the detention of the opposition leader? And in your assessment, what would happen next? Are sanctions in the U.S. toolbox? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, as I said, we urge the Government of Georgia to act in line with its own aspirations, with its own Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and to reinforce its commitment to democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial system is free of political bias. We have made no bones about where we stand. The fact that I am saying this from the podium is certainly a good indication that we have had more candid discussions with our interlocutors, including interlocutors in Georgia.

Again, not to be repetitive, but this goes back to what we’ve said several times throughout this briefing about the United States always having our values, taking our values in hand when we enter into bilateral relationships or in multilateral fora. Clearly, there are values we hold dear at play here: liberty, rule of law, a prosecutorial system that is independent and free of political influence.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Uganda? Sorry, on —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, about Uganda?

QUESTION: Uganda, yes.

QUESTION: Can I just get a Georgia question in before?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Does – did the – do the arrests in the United States’ view threaten Georgia’s NATO aspirations?

MR PRICE: Look, the – what we’ve seen in recent days is in contravention of Georgia’s own Euro-Atlantic aspirations. I wouldn’t want to go beyond that. What I will say is that we’ll be watching closely in the hours and days ahead. We’ve made no secret about what we believe needs to happen with Georgia, and we’ll see if that’s the case.

Uganda?

QUESTION: Yes. So opposition leader Bobi Wine said on Sunday that he was dropping the legal challenge to Uganda’s presidential election results that handed the victory to incumbent Museveni, citing supreme court justice hearing the case were biased. Can the State Department comment on the latest development, and does the U.S. consider Museveni as a reliable partner in the war against terror?

MR PRICE: Well, I believe we said this before, but it probably bears reiterating that Uganda’s January 14th elections were marred by election irregularities and abuses by the government’s security services against opposition candidates and members of civil society. We strongly urge independent, credible, impartial, and thorough investigations into these incidents. We’ll consider a range of targeted options to hold accountable those members of the security forces responsible for these actions. When it comes to President Museveni, Uganda, of course, does continue to play a regional role and does have an important role when it comes to some of our interests in the region. It is a troop-contributing country to AMISOM in Somalia, in its international efforts to defeat al-Shabaab.

But again, this goes to the point that we’ve now made even more times throughout this briefing, that we can pursue our interests and pursue our values at the same time. We are considering, as I said, a range of targeted options to hold accountable those who are responsible for what we saw in the context of Uganda’s elections, just as we continue to work with Uganda to pursue some of our mutual interests.

We’ll take a final question or two.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question real quick.

MR PRICE: Let’s try and move around a little bit. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the – Biden’s administration had said over and over that it wanted to see an end to the war in Yemen. What steps, if any, has the U.S. administration taken at this point? And if I can bring in Iran into this conversation, as the U.S. is trying to get Iran to the negotiating table, how do you – what role do you envision around playing in Yemen at this point?

MR PRICE: Well, when it – speaking to the steps that we have taken to prioritize an end to the war in Yemen, first, the President of the United States made very clear in his visit here, I guess it was a few weeks ago now, last month, that we would prioritize and throw our energy behind a diplomatic solution, working closely with the UN Envoy Martin Griffiths. That same day, he appointed a career Foreign Service officer, Tim Lenderking, to be our special envoy for Yemen. The fact that this administration named a special envoy, someone with the respect both in this building and in capitals around the world, to take on this work full time I think speaks to that prioritization.

When it comes to Tim Lenderking, we mentioned yesterday that he is now back in the Gulf. He is currently meeting with interlocutors in the region. This comes just a week or so after his first trip to the region. He went to Saudi Arabia shortly after he was named. He met with Martin Griffiths, he met with representatives of the Government of Yemen, our Saudi interlocutors as well. So he has been hard at work in this building and in the region already in an effort to seek to push forward that goal of a political solution to this conflict in Yemen, Yemen which is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Speaking of that humanitarian catastrophe, we look forward to participating in the UN High-level Pledging Event on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on March 1st, which I believe is next Monday. It’s an event that’s co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: March 1st. Yep.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, no, you don’t believe – it is next Monday, right? According to the calendar.

MR PRICE: I believe it is Monday because it is Monday. As I said, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And we are seeking to raise the ambition not only in this country, but from – on the part of our partners, too, when it comes to what they are willing to contribute and able to contribute to bring an end to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people.

I saw one final question there. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. If I could, two China questions. The – there’s been some speculation about who the ambassador would be for Beijing, and I know you can’t drop hints from the podium, but could you give us a sense of the timing for when we will see the nominees put forward? And also, can you give us any sense of what are the – what are the attributes or skill sets that the Biden administration is looking for, what Secretary Blinken is looking for given the very contentious nature of the bilateral relationship?

The other question is just regarding the upcoming bilateral between President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau. The Canadian House of Commons voted to declare that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, but Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from that. So the position of the Biden administration, as we know, is that these activities do constitute genocide. So I wanted to get a sense of what the Biden administration and what Secretary Blinken propose to do to get the two sides on the same page on this issue.

MR PRICE: So on your first question, as you know, ambassadorial nominations are the prerogative of the President, and so I’m not in a position to offer any sense of timeline, and certainly not the identity of who might ultimately end up representing our interests in Beijing.

I think what we do know, however, is that our ambassador will be responsible for helping to steward an approach to China that has competition at the center. We know that this is a relationship that has adversarial elements, it has competitive elements, and the competitive elements are really at the crux of that relationship. It also has a number of cooperative elements, and we’ve talked about the fact that when it is in our national interest, in America’s national interest, that there can be times when cooperation will be on the table. Climate, for example, is one of those areas.

So whoever ends up in Beijing will have a lot on her or his plate, and the President will want to make sure that that person is appropriately empowered and sees eyes-to-eye – see eye – sees eye-to-eye with the President on the best approach to compete, and ultimately to outcompete, with China on the issues that are near and dear to us.

On genocide, we have been very clear that Secretary Blinken has determined that what has taken place in Xinjiang was genocide. We’ve also been very clear that it constitutes crimes against humanity. Obviously, other governments are looking very closely at this. There are different processes within different capitals. I wouldn’t want to speak to any other governments’ efforts to define or even to evaluate what has gone on.

But I will say that we have prioritized an approach to China that, in the first instance, seeks to ensure that we are competing with and outcompeting with China from a position of strength. And there are a number of sources of strength. Our values are a source of strength. Our alliances and partnerships are a source of strength, and it’s relevant to your question. When we seek to take on China alone as we have done in the past, I think that the results would be meager compared to what we can do when we are galvanizing collective action, when we are bringing our European allies, our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, along with us. And that is in essentially every realm – the security realm, when it comes to human rights abuses, as you mentioned.

And so that’s precisely what we are trying to do. I’m sure we’ll be speaking a lot more about the ways in which we will seek to bring those partners along, not only to highlight the abuses and the outrages that have taken place in places like Xinjiang, but ways to seek to change behavior on the part of Beijing, seek to change that underlying conduct.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a technical question on what you just said, that – you said Secretary Blinken has determined that what’s taken place in Xinjiang is a genocide. Does that mean that since – in the last 30 days this administration has undertaken a separate, a new review that’s different from the one that the previous administration took? Because Secretary Pompeo had determined that it was a genocide as well, and Secretary Blinken – or then-designate – said that he agreed with that determination. But has there been – has this administration made its own new determination separate from the previous administration’s one on genocide?

MR PRICE: So this building – this building along with our interagency partners, we are constantly evaluating all sources of information when it comes to what’s going on in Xinjiang on a human rights basis or anywhere else. Our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, our Bureau of Global Criminal Justice, our Office of the Legal Adviser, INR – a number of other entities are constantly looking at those inputs.

But Secretary Blinken has been very clear, and he has the prerogative to say this: What has taken place in Xinjiang constitutes genocide.

QUESTION: No, I just want to know if there was a separate, new determination by this administration since January 20th that it is a genocide, or if you’re just agreeing with the previous administration’s, which I – I just want to know —

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken came to that conclusion on the basis of the information he was receiving as a close advisor to the President-elect.

QUESTION: Prior to becoming Secretary?

MR PRICE: Well, he mentioned it in his confirmation hearing, which took place prior to January 20th.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: But we are constantly evaluating and reviewing what is going on so that we can shine a spotlight on human rights abuses and ultimately hold to account those who would perpetrate them.

Thank you very much. We’ll do it again tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

2:36 p.m. EST

MR PRICE: Okay, good afternoon. We’ll start things off today with Georgia.

The United States is deeply troubled by the arrest of opposition leader Nika Melia and other members of the opposition in Georgia.

In other news today, the Secretary announced the inaugural International Anticorruption Champions Award, recognizing 12 honorees ranging from a government auditor from Micronesia, to a journalist from the Kyrgyz Republic, to a civic leader from Guinea.

These 12 courageous individuals deserve recognition for their tireless work to defend transparency, combat corruption, and ensure accountability in their own countries.

Corruption’s impact on the quality of governance, security, and economic stability is well understood. It erodes the trust and confidence of citizens in their public institutions and puts an anchor around the necks of developing economies.

The United States remains committed to anticorruption efforts around the world, and we recognize that we will only be successful by working in concert with dedicated partners and countries also striving towards fulfilling international anticorruption standards.

So with that, Matt, I’ll take your question.

QUESTION: Yes, thank you. Just on the Georgia thing, before I get to my main question, just – is there more to that comment that you’re just – only that you’re deeply troubled? Is there any —

MR PRICE: Well, we covered this a little bit last week, so let me recap essentially what we said then. We are deeply concerned by political developments in Georgia. We, again, call on all parties to exercise restraint and to avoid any actions or rhetoric that could escalate tensions or result in violence.

We urge the Georgian Government to act in line with its Euro-Atlantic aspirations and to reinforce its commitment to the principles of democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial systems are free of political bias. The United States supports a democratic, secure, and prosperous Georgia. We will continue to work with Georgia to promote the rule of law and accountable institutions.

QUESTION: Okay, on to my – what I wanted to start with, Egypt. And I know that you guys put a readout of the Secretary – you put out a readout of the Secretary’s call with the foreign minister – but in that readout, it talks about how the Secretary told the foreign minister that human rights would be central to the relationship, the U.S.-Egypt relationship. And I’m just wondering if you can expand on that. What does that actually – what does that mean? How does it manifest itself? Because, as you know, there was a bit of criticism just a week ago when you guys went ahead and approved this almost $200 million sale of missiles to Egypt in the midst of a crackdown on dissidents.

MR PRICE: Matt, what I would say is to reiterate something that President Biden first said on the campaign trail. I believe it was in October of this year. He made the point, and it’s a point that applies to his now administration, that human rights, our values, principles that are universal, will always be – we will always carry them with us in our bilateral relationships. That includes, importantly, when it comes to our closest security partners. We have, of course, discussed some of them in this briefing room – the idea that relationships can be multifaceted. We have interests, but we, of course, have our values. We’re never going to discount our values in pursuit of our interests. And that is true in the case of Egypt.

The President and the Secretary, they’ve been clear that democracy and human rights must be at the forefront of U.S. foreign policy. The State Department consistently discusses with the Government of Egypt our concerns over lack of respect for human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of association. We spoke last week – multiple occasions – about the detention of the family members of Mohamed Soltan.

So, clearly, these issues will always be in our bilateral relationship. You saw that reflected in the readout today.

QUESTION: But I just – but I guess my question is does that – does that manifest itself in anything in the short term that – in terms of an actual policy decision, or is it just telling the Egyptians that you’re not happy about how they’re handling it?

MR PRICE: Matt —

QUESTION: I mean, what is the tangible result of human rights being central to the relationship?

MR PRICE: Well, the tangible result is taking place every day here at Main State and also in our embassy in Cairo, but also in embassies around the world. Our State Department officials are raising these issues. They are supporting human rights defenders. We talked about 12 of them in the context of the anticorruption awards awardees that we announced today. And we can talk about it in the context of Egypt – the fact that it was raised in this, the Secretary’s first call with his Egyptian counterpart, I think speaks to the priority we attach to this issue. Of course, Matt, you’ll probably be the first to remind me that words are no substitute for deeds, and so you can see those deeds – well, you would see those deeds if you could see the work on the part of what is going on in our embassy in Cairo, what’s going on here.

QUESTION: In the first call I’m happy to take – I’ll – I just want to know if there was any – if there’s anything like in the immediate term after this call and him saying that it’s going to be central, if there’s any shift, any – anything substantive that we can actually see other than just the readout of him saying it.

MR PRICE: Well, certainly I hope what we see is what happens on the part of the Egyptian Government. That’s where we want to see improvement. That is where we are making this point to them.

QUESTION: Thanks.

MR PRICE: Great. Yes, please.

QUESTION: On Iran?

MR PRICE: Iran? Sure.

QUESTION: I was wondering what you guys have to say about the report of the IAEA saying that they are deeply concerned about the possible presence of nuclear material at an undeclared site in Iran, and also, of course, on the decision today to go forward with restricting the access for the inspectors despite everything that happened last weekend (inaudible).

MR PRICE: Well, we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but we have, in fact, seen the IAEA’s latest quarterly report on Iran. It remains restricted until the board decides it can be released publicly.

We fully support, as I said yesterday, the director general’s efforts to ensure full implementation of IAEA verification in Iran, and we have full faith and confidence in the director general and the IAEA more broadly.

We wouldn’t comment on the details of this report until it’s released publicly, but what we can say is that – and it’s certainly no secret – is that Iran continues to take steps in excess of its JCPOA limits. Iran has also recently taken steps to reduce cooperation with the IAEA, including the Additional Protocol. You heard the director general speak to this over the weekend; you heard me speak to this yesterday as well. We have underscored our concern that Iran is moving in the wrong direction. It is moving further away from its nuclear constraints.

Our objective in all of this remains to seek an outcome in which Iran and the United States resume compliance with their commitments under the JCPOA. These steps by Iran, the steps that we have spoken to, that the Iranians have spoken to publicly, are clearly moving in the wrong direction.

We also know that the IAEA continues to investigate a number of serious outstanding issues related to potential undeclared nuclear material in Iran, to your question. We insist that Iran cooperate with the IAEA to resolve these issues without further delay. We’ll be in close consultation with the IAEA Board of Governors to discuss appropriate action in support of the agency’s efforts.

And all the while, we have made clear that the best, the most sustainable, the most effective way to place limits, verifiable and permanent limits on Iran’s nuclear program, is through a negotiated solution to this. The proposition that the President has put on the table has been known for quite some time now, even before he was President of the United States, the shorthand being compliance for compliance. If Iran resumes its full compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States will be prepared to do the same. That is a necessary but not sufficient step. It’s not sufficient because we, from there, would like to lengthen and strengthen the deal. We would like to negotiate follow-on agreements to address other areas of Iran’s malign influence, including its ballistic missile program.

The first step in all of this, a natural outgrowth from what we have been saying for some time, is to meet with the Iranians under the auspices of the P5+1. Don’t have an update for you there. Obviously, we made our offer known last week. We did that in tandem with our European partners.

I’ve made this point before, but there has been a lot of ink spilled and attention paid to the offer that we put forward. I think in many ways what was more noteworthy was the joint statement that emanated from the E3 and the Secretary of State, Secretary Blinken. It was a clear signal that after weeks of consultations, weeks of coordination with our European allies, our closest allies, we are now on the same page. We are walking in lockstep with them down this path of diplomacy. It is no longer – we are no longer working at cross-purposes. We are working hand-in-glove with our European allies, and we believe that gives us a position of strength when it comes to these negotiations, and we believe it provides the best path forward.

Yes.

QUESTION: Thank you. I want to change topics if it’s okay with my colleagues.

MR PRICE: Anything else on Iran, quickly?

QUESTION: Yeah, staying on Iran.

MR PRICE: Sure. We’ll take Rosiland, and then we’ll —

QUESTION: Thanks, Ned. Congressional Republicans had criticized the JCPOA, one, because it should have been a treaty in their view. And now they’re trying to put pressure on the administration to not give in to Iran’s repeated demands to lift the sanctions that were imposed by the previous administration, saying the U.S. should not be in the business of rewarding bad behavior.

In the past couple of hours, Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy, when asked, said that he doesn’t think it would be necessarily a bad idea to remove those sanctions in order to get the U.S. and Iran talking again. Is this a topic of discussion between the administration and members of Congress to perhaps get some political cover to consider at least lifting some of the sanctions to get this process moving? Is this simply a redline – and I use that term – that’s a term of art – that the administration isn’t going to do, that Iran has to come back into compliance, no ifs, ands, or buts?

MR PRICE: Well, Rosiland, I would start by making the point that Iran moved away, started to move away from its constraints under the JCPOA, after the May 2018 decision to leave the JCPOA. When the agreement was adhered to by all sides, it was working. It was working according to the IAEA; it was working according to this building; it was working according to the Intelligence Community, as well as according to our international partners. That is why we continue to believe that the JCPOA forms an appropriate basis to start to hold those discussions, to lengthen and strengthen the deal that of course was concluded in 2015, and to build on it.

Now, when it comes to the consultations you referenced, what we have said really since January 20th is that the first step in this process is to undertake consultations with our allies – and I’ve spoken to the E3 in this context – with our partners, and of course, there were – there are other members of the P5+1, of course, who are not treaty allies; there are other interested parties around the world, including our partners in the region – and with members of Congress. And those consultations with members of Congress have been ongoing. We want to make sure that – well, I should say that we know that our approach will have the most legitimacy and prospects for success when we have that support, not only from our partners and allies, but from key members of Congress.

When it comes to the proposals that have been put on the table, our retort here is quite simple. We offered last week to meet with the Iranians. We said we’d be willing to meet with the Iranians in the context of the P5+1, because that’s where we believe these issues are best discussed and adjudicated. There’s been posturing in Tehran; there has been posturing elsewhere. We think that discussions, negotiations, engaging in that clear-eyed, principled diplomacy together with our closest partners – the E3 in this case, along with the other P5+1 members – that’s the place where we want to have those discussions.

Will.

QUESTION: One more on Iran?

MR PRICE: Yeah.

QUESTION: The South Korean foreign ministry said today that it has reached an agreement in principle with the Iranians to unfreeze some of the oil money that has been frozen by U.S. sanctions, but that it’s pending U.S. approval. Is that the case, and are you involved in discussions with the South Koreans to unfreeze that money?

MR PRICE: Well, we don’t have a comment precisely on that, precisely because there has been no transfer of funds, as you alluded to. We wouldn’t want to comment on bilateral negotiations with other countries. You’ve heard me speak to our close consultations with allies and partners. And of course, the South Koreans, or Republic of Korea, a key ally, a key treaty ally, and very much a partner when it comes to sanctions enforcement across the board.

So it wouldn’t be a surprise, it wouldn’t come as a shock, I’m sure, to hear you say that we do discuss these issues broadly with the South Koreans, but I wouldn’t want to characterize it beyond that.

Anything else on Iran? Are we ready to move on?

QUESTION: Iran.

MR PRICE: One more? Yeah.

QUESTION: Sort of Iran. Former Secretary of State —

QUESTION: (Laughter.) Sort of Iran? (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Well, it’s a Mike Pompeo Iran question. Former Secretary of State Pompeo was on Fox News today, and said that current Biden administration officials during the Trump years had sought to undermine Trump’s Iran policy and called it “un-American,” including communications that Fox News said that they had with Foreign Minister Zarif. And I wondered if you wanted to respond to former Secretary Pompeo?

MR PRICE: That Fox News said they had with – they reported – sorry, I didn’t understand that part.

QUESTION: Fox News had reported on – some of these, I think, were previously known –interactions with Foreign Minister Zarif that occurred during the Trump administration. Secretary – former Secretary Pompeo was asked about them today on Fox, said that those people had been trying to undermine Trump policy and called it “un-American,” and I wondered if you wanted to respond to that.

MR PRICE: I don’t want to respond to that directly. What I would say is that everyone in this administration shares the view of the President of the United States that Iran cannot be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. I wouldn’t want to speak for the previous administration, but I would hazard a guess that they believe the same – believed the same, I should say – that Iran should never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. It is also no secret that this President and this administration have and key principals had profound disagreements with the way in which the previous administration sought to bring that about.

Even in this briefing, you have heard me say that while the JCPOA was in effect – while it was – it’s still in effect, of course, but while all sides were in full compliance, Iran was living up to its commitments. And that is not my opinion. That was the assessment of this building, of our Intelligence Community, of international weapons inspectors on the part of the IAEA. And we say – when we say that Iran was living up to its commitment, the commitment that Iran had when it was in full compliance and full performance of its JCPOA requirements was strict limitations on its nuclear activities, a strict verification and monitoring regime – in fact, the strictest ever negotiated – and a prohibition – indefinite, permanent prohibition – on Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapon.

That is why this administration continues to believe that the JCPOA forms an appropriate basis to begin broader discussions, to begin broader discussions for lengthening and strengthening the deal, and then of course, as I said before, negotiating follow-on agreements. There – this has always been a – this has been a contentious issue, but I think every good-faith actor can come to this issue in this country believing that American interests should always be put first, that Iran should never be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapon. And we believe the best way to do that is through principled, clear-eyed diplomacy.

QUESTION: Ned, the previous administration’s position was that even if Iran was complying, in full compliance, the agreement, the deal, was so flawed that it would still give them a pathway to develop a bomb, because of the sunset clauses, because of the end of certain sanctions that – some of which began in September, which you guys have withdrawn the snapback. So I mean, can you at least acknowledge there’s a fundamental difference in the – in how this administration views it and how the previous administration viewed it? I mean, they thought – the previous administration’s argument was that even if Iran completely complies, it’s still a bad deal, because they can still enrich – the limits on enrichment, the limits on centrifuges and everything get lifted over a period of time. So —

MR PRICE: Matt, a couple things were undeniably true, and I say that with the caveat that it’s, of course, no secret that the previous administration appeared to have a very different view of the utility, the general utility, of the JCPOA. But a couple things were true. Before the JCPOA went into effect, Iran’s breakout time, the time it would need to develop enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon was estimated in a handful of months. When Iran was in full compliance, in full performance of its JCPOA commitments, that time went up to a full year. Also, Iran is permanently barred from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

QUESTION: Well, but hold on. But that permanent bar – okay. That – you’re talking about the fatwa from —

MR PRICE: No, I’m not talking about the fatwa. I’m talking about the nonproliferation treaty. So there is a permanent —

QUESTION: Well, they just suspended their cooperation with the Additional Protocol.

MR PRICE: But the Additional Protocols is separate from the NPT.

QUESTION: All right. Okay.

MR PRICE: But – so – okay. Sounds like I’ve answered the question.

Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah, yeah.

MR PRICE: Okay. All right.

QUESTION: Thank you. I have a couple of questions, if you would indulge me, on the Palestinian issue.

MR PRICE: Uh huh.

QUESTION: First on Secretary Blinken’s conversation yesterday, phone call with his counterpart, the Israeli Ashkenazi. And he emphasized that the Biden administration adheres to the two-state solution. Could you tell us where does this administration envision this two-state solution to be? And is East Jerusalem part of it?

MR PRICE: Well, I would say that the Secretary was pleased to speak with his Israeli counterpart. They’ve had multiple conversations at this point. We’ve said before the United States remains unwavering in our commitment to Israel’s security and we’ll work to strengthen all aspects of the Israeli bilateral, bilateral relationship.

When it comes to the two-state solution, the Biden administration believes that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s identity as a Jewish and democratic state while living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state. That is precisely why the two-state solution continues to be the crux of how we view the conflict and where we believe – and how we believe the conflict should be resolved. Now, of course, I don’t think anyone is saying that a negotiated two-state solution is in the offing in the coming hours or days. We are realistic. But at the same time, we believe it provides a durable framework for the end state that we’ve talked about.

QUESTION: So much has changed. I mean, do you feel that you have leverage with the current Israeli prime minister, who’s running for re-election very, very soon? I mean, is it really worthwhile to speak with him about not taking unilateral actions? I mean, do you see him to be amenable to whatever issues that you raise with him on – regarding the two-state solution?

MR PRICE: Well, I think this goes back to the issue I was speaking to before, that the United States – we’re the world’s strongest, most powerful country. We can pursue and accomplish multiple things at once. We have interests and we have values. Those things need not be inconsistent, and in fact, our interests are our values and vice versa. So when it comes to the two-state solution, our values are at play on both sides, frankly. We believe Israel should continue to be a Jewish and democratic state. At the same time, we believe that the Palestinians deserve their legitimate aspirations for statehood and independence. So we bring our values with us in every relationship across the board. We talked about it in Egypt, we’ve talked about it in other countries in this room, and it’s certainly true when it comes to Israel as well.

QUESTION: Right. Just – if you indulge me just a little bit – but this prime minister has had a tradition during every elections, almost every year, where he would take unilateral action to satisfy a very fundamentalist base and so on – the settlers – I mean, let’s be open and so on. If he takes such actions, are you telling him not to at all? And will there be consequences if he did?

MR PRICE: I think – and I may have said this in response to one of your previous questions – but we have been very clear from this room and more broadly. We believe it is critical for Israel to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut those efforts to advance a two-state solution. Again, we believe in the centrality and the premise of a two-state solution. We don’t want to see either side take a step that would put that further out of reach.

QUESTION: On COVID, please. Just one last thing on COVID: I know that my colleague from Haaretz asked you last week and he suggested that the Israelis are allowing 100,000 vaccines to go in, but until today, really, nothing has happened. Are you following up on that? I mean, the Israelis seem to be withholding – as a matter of fact preventing these vaccines from going to Gaza, going to the West Bank, and so on. What is your position on this? And especially with the World Bank report yesterday saying that the situation is really quite disastrous there and it needs to be quick remedy.

MR PRICE: Well, we believe it’s important for Palestinians to achieve increased access to COVID vaccine in the weeks ahead. I think I talked about this – I guess it was on Friday. We believe it’s important for their own – for their own needs. It’s important for Israel, Israel’s health and security as well. But there’s also a broader dynamic at play. As long as COVID is uncontrolled in any part of the world, we can see the development of these variants that have posed such a challenge to us. That is why this administration has undertaken an effort to distribute a safe and effective vaccine to millions of Americans, millions of Americans per day on some days.

And it is also why we have made commitments on the international stage through Gavi, the $2 billion commitment the President announced late last week, followed by a longer-term additional $2 billion. That near-term $2 billion is – we have prioritized it precisely because we know that no American can ultimately be safe – or that this country cannot ultimately be safe – from COVID while it continues to run in the wild. And the more people we can vaccinate, of course, in this country, but the more people who are also vaccinated around the world, the quicker we can squash this pandemic and protect Americans here at home.

Rich.

QUESTION: Ned, you released earlier today a readout regarding the Secretary’s call with the Polish foreign minister. The foreign minister wrote that he and his Ukrainian counterpart were calling on the Biden administration to use all means at their disposal to prevent Nord Stream 2 from happening. Do you agree that this administration or will this administration agree that you guys are on the same page, that you’re using all at your disposal to stop Nord Stream 2?

MR PRICE: Well, Rich, I think we talked about this a little bit yesterday, but in the first weeks of this administration, we conducted the assessment that we submitted to Congress on Friday. And importantly to your question, we consulted closely with our European partners and our European allies. I think it is fair to say that none of our partners or allies would have been taken by surprise by what ultimately was in that assessment. When it comes to the Poles, we certainly share their concerns with Nord Stream 2 more broadly. That is why we have been unequivocal in saying that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal. It is a bad deal for Europe; it is a bad deal for Europe’s – in the context of Europe’s own stated energy goals.

So this is not – what we submitted on Friday was not the end of the story. It was a report that Congress required. Congress obviously has a legitimate interest in this. We will continue to keep Congress apprised, and if additional policy responses are warranted to fulfill legislative requirements – I would say fulfill our interests when it comes to Nord Stream 2 – we won’t hesitate to do that.

QUESTION: As part of your consultations, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter last week. They used open-source data to identify ships that were working on that project. They say they’ve not gotten a response. Is the State Department looking into that, the charges in that letter, and can they expect a response?

MR PRICE: So I’ll – I’m not familiar with the letter. I’ll let you know if we have anything specific to say on that, but, of course, in the report that we submitted to Congress last Friday and that we spoke to yesterday, we did identify the Russia-based KVT-Rus as an entity knowingly selling, leasing, or providing the vessel Fortuna in the construction of the pipeline. We determined that KVT-Rus was partaking in sanctionable activity precisely because it was engaged in pipe-laying or pipe-laying activities at depths of a hundred feet or more, which I understand to be the key criterion when it comes to PEESA, the legislation at play here.

So the – as I said before, the report on Friday was not the end of the story. It was just the latest chapter. We will continue to monitor, to evaluate, and if additional policy responses are warranted, we won’t hesitate to take them.

Simon.

QUESTION: On Myanmar. You’ve talked a lot about trying to get allies and especially allies in the region to pressure the Burmese military to change course. There’s an initiative by Indonesia and – an ASEAN initiative led by Indonesia, which is trying to push the Burmese military to stick by their promise of holding elections in a year, and apparently a trip planned the Indonesian foreign minister, which would be the first sort of engagement with the new military junta. Does that – does the U.S. sort of have a position on this? Because it seems in – contradictory of your position, which has been to try and get the junta to turn – the generals to sort of change course rather than saying yes, you can take power for a year as long as you hold elections after a year. So it seems to be out of whack there.

MR PRICE: Well, I understand that proposal remains hypothetical, and so we wouldn’t want to weigh in on this at this stage. What I would say – and I would reiterate something we have said ever since the coup on February 1st, something we determined to be a coup the very next day and that we’ve been unambiguous about ever since – Burmese – Burma’s military leaders must see that their attempts to replace Burma’s democratically elected government and its violent actions will have consequences. Of course, last night we announced an additional set of sanctions. There was a G7 statement that I’m sure you saw this morning. Again, the United States and our – some of our closest partners and allies speaking with one voice, condemning what’s going on.

And, of course, we’re not the only country taking action to promote accountability for the military leaders behind this coup. In fact, we applauded the recent sanctions, the sanctions announcements that were made by UK and Canada, as well as the announcement that the EU will look into its own measures.

So our message to the junta has not changed. They must relinquish power, they must restore the democratically elected government, and our message to the people of Burma has not changed. We stand with the people of Burma. We will continue, again, in concert with our likeminded allies and partners around the world to support their aspirations for the restoration of a civilian-led government in Burma.

QUESTION: Can we stay in Burma?

MR PRICE: Sure.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you, Ned. Have the United States received formal request from the Burmese diplomats in the United States who are asking for asylum because they did not want to side with the military leaders there, they don’t want to go back home to – they want to be on the same side with the Burmese people. And separately, how would you characterize the Quad, other members in the Quad’s position regarding the sanctions? I was reading the statement after the Quad meeting. They called for a return for democracy but there’s no mention on the sanctions. Are they on the same page with the U.S. in regards to sanctions with – against military leaders? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, you saw from the readout that was issued after that meeting late last week, I suppose it was, that there is unanimity in the position that democracy, that civilian leadership must be restored to the people of Burma. We’ve heard that from the Quad. We’ve heard that from the G7. We’ve heard it from other countries individually, other constellations of countries together. We’ve heard it from the UN Security Council.

So the world is speaking with just about one voice when it comes to opposing the military coup in Burma and supporting the aspirations of the people of Burma to restore their civilian democratically elected government. The United States will continue to offer that rhetorical support but also to take action in furtherance of those goals. As I mentioned before, we announced two additional sanctions against two additional members of the military. Some of our close allies and partners have announced their own sanctions or their intent to sanction.

As I said in a very different context, when it comes to the United States, it’s certainly not the end of the story, and we will continue to pursue means on a policy basis to fulfill our goal to support the Burmese people and to restore democratic and civilian rule in Burma.

When it comes to Burmese diplomats in the United States, we’ll see if we can get you anything on that front.

QUESTION: Can we – can I please ask about Georgia’s political crisis? Thank you for the readout on the top of the briefing. Have the United States or the embassy or State Department have any communication with the current prime minister over the detention of the opposition leader? And in your assessment, what would happen next? Are sanctions in the U.S. toolbox? Thank you.

MR PRICE: Well, as I said, we urge the Government of Georgia to act in line with its own aspirations, with its own Euro-Atlantic aspirations, and to reinforce its commitment to democracy, individual liberty, and the rule of law by ensuring that its judicial and prosecutorial system is free of political bias. We have made no bones about where we stand. The fact that I am saying this from the podium is certainly a good indication that we have had more candid discussions with our interlocutors, including interlocutors in Georgia.

Again, not to be repetitive, but this goes back to what we’ve said several times throughout this briefing about the United States always having our values, taking our values in hand when we enter into bilateral relationships or in multilateral fora. Clearly, there are values we hold dear at play here: liberty, rule of law, a prosecutorial system that is independent and free of political influence.

Yeah.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Uganda? Sorry, on —

MR PRICE: I’m sorry, about Uganda?

QUESTION: Uganda, yes.

QUESTION: Can I just get a Georgia question in before?

QUESTION: Yes, please.

QUESTION: Does – did the – do the arrests in the United States’ view threaten Georgia’s NATO aspirations?

MR PRICE: Look, the – what we’ve seen in recent days is in contravention of Georgia’s own Euro-Atlantic aspirations. I wouldn’t want to go beyond that. What I will say is that we’ll be watching closely in the hours and days ahead. We’ve made no secret about what we believe needs to happen with Georgia, and we’ll see if that’s the case.

Uganda?

QUESTION: Yes. So opposition leader Bobi Wine said on Sunday that he was dropping the legal challenge to Uganda’s presidential election results that handed the victory to incumbent Museveni, citing supreme court justice hearing the case were biased. Can the State Department comment on the latest development, and does the U.S. consider Museveni as a reliable partner in the war against terror?

MR PRICE: Well, I believe we said this before, but it probably bears reiterating that Uganda’s January 14th elections were marred by election irregularities and abuses by the government’s security services against opposition candidates and members of civil society. We strongly urge independent, credible, impartial, and thorough investigations into these incidents. We’ll consider a range of targeted options to hold accountable those members of the security forces responsible for these actions. When it comes to President Museveni, Uganda, of course, does continue to play a regional role and does have an important role when it comes to some of our interests in the region. It is a troop-contributing country to AMISOM in Somalia, in its international efforts to defeat al-Shabaab.

But again, this goes to the point that we’ve now made even more times throughout this briefing, that we can pursue our interests and pursue our values at the same time. We are considering, as I said, a range of targeted options to hold accountable those who are responsible for what we saw in the context of Uganda’s elections, just as we continue to work with Uganda to pursue some of our mutual interests.

We’ll take a final question or two.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) question real quick.

MR PRICE: Let’s try and move around a little bit. Yes.

QUESTION: Yeah. I wanted to ask you about the – Biden’s administration had said over and over that it wanted to see an end to the war in Yemen. What steps, if any, has the U.S. administration taken at this point? And if I can bring in Iran into this conversation, as the U.S. is trying to get Iran to the negotiating table, how do you – what role do you envision around playing in Yemen at this point?

MR PRICE: Well, when it – speaking to the steps that we have taken to prioritize an end to the war in Yemen, first, the President of the United States made very clear in his visit here, I guess it was a few weeks ago now, last month, that we would prioritize and throw our energy behind a diplomatic solution, working closely with the UN Envoy Martin Griffiths. That same day, he appointed a career Foreign Service officer, Tim Lenderking, to be our special envoy for Yemen. The fact that this administration named a special envoy, someone with the respect both in this building and in capitals around the world, to take on this work full time I think speaks to that prioritization.

When it comes to Tim Lenderking, we mentioned yesterday that he is now back in the Gulf. He is currently meeting with interlocutors in the region. This comes just a week or so after his first trip to the region. He went to Saudi Arabia shortly after he was named. He met with Martin Griffiths, he met with representatives of the Government of Yemen, our Saudi interlocutors as well. So he has been hard at work in this building and in the region already in an effort to seek to push forward that goal of a political solution to this conflict in Yemen, Yemen which is now home to the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

Speaking of that humanitarian catastrophe, we look forward to participating in the UN High-level Pledging Event on the humanitarian crisis in Yemen on March 1st, which I believe is next Monday. It’s an event that’s co-hosted by Switzerland and Sweden.

QUESTION: (Off-mike.)

MR PRICE: March 1st. Yep.

QUESTION: Yeah. No, no, you don’t believe – it is next Monday, right? According to the calendar.

MR PRICE: I believe it is Monday because it is Monday. As I said, the humanitarian crisis in Yemen, it is home to the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. And we are seeking to raise the ambition not only in this country, but from – on the part of our partners, too, when it comes to what they are willing to contribute and able to contribute to bring an end to the humanitarian plight of the Yemeni people.

I saw one final question there. Yeah.

QUESTION: Yes. Thank you. If I could, two China questions. The – there’s been some speculation about who the ambassador would be for Beijing, and I know you can’t drop hints from the podium, but could you give us a sense of the timing for when we will see the nominees put forward? And also, can you give us any sense of what are the – what are the attributes or skill sets that the Biden administration is looking for, what Secretary Blinken is looking for given the very contentious nature of the bilateral relationship?

The other question is just regarding the upcoming bilateral between President Biden and Prime Minister Trudeau. The Canadian House of Commons voted to declare that China is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, but Prime Minister Trudeau and his cabinet abstained from that. So the position of the Biden administration, as we know, is that these activities do constitute genocide. So I wanted to get a sense of what the Biden administration and what Secretary Blinken propose to do to get the two sides on the same page on this issue.

MR PRICE: So on your first question, as you know, ambassadorial nominations are the prerogative of the President, and so I’m not in a position to offer any sense of timeline, and certainly not the identity of who might ultimately end up representing our interests in Beijing.

I think what we do know, however, is that our ambassador will be responsible for helping to steward an approach to China that has competition at the center. We know that this is a relationship that has adversarial elements, it has competitive elements, and the competitive elements are really at the crux of that relationship. It also has a number of cooperative elements, and we’ve talked about the fact that when it is in our national interest, in America’s national interest, that there can be times when cooperation will be on the table. Climate, for example, is one of those areas.

So whoever ends up in Beijing will have a lot on her or his plate, and the President will want to make sure that that person is appropriately empowered and sees eyes-to-eye – see eye – sees eye-to-eye with the President on the best approach to compete, and ultimately to outcompete, with China on the issues that are near and dear to us.

On genocide, we have been very clear that Secretary Blinken has determined that what has taken place in Xinjiang was genocide. We’ve also been very clear that it constitutes crimes against humanity. Obviously, other governments are looking very closely at this. There are different processes within different capitals. I wouldn’t want to speak to any other governments’ efforts to define or even to evaluate what has gone on.

But I will say that we have prioritized an approach to China that, in the first instance, seeks to ensure that we are competing with and outcompeting with China from a position of strength. And there are a number of sources of strength. Our values are a source of strength. Our alliances and partnerships are a source of strength, and it’s relevant to your question. When we seek to take on China alone as we have done in the past, I think that the results would be meager compared to what we can do when we are galvanizing collective action, when we are bringing our European allies, our allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific, along with us. And that is in essentially every realm – the security realm, when it comes to human rights abuses, as you mentioned.

And so that’s precisely what we are trying to do. I’m sure we’ll be speaking a lot more about the ways in which we will seek to bring those partners along, not only to highlight the abuses and the outrages that have taken place in places like Xinjiang, but ways to seek to change behavior on the part of Beijing, seek to change that underlying conduct.

QUESTION: Can I just ask you a technical question on what you just said, that – you said Secretary Blinken has determined that what’s taken place in Xinjiang is a genocide. Does that mean that since – in the last 30 days this administration has undertaken a separate, a new review that’s different from the one that the previous administration took? Because Secretary Pompeo had determined that it was a genocide as well, and Secretary Blinken – or then-designate – said that he agreed with that determination. But has there been – has this administration made its own new determination separate from the previous administration’s one on genocide?

MR PRICE: So this building – this building along with our interagency partners, we are constantly evaluating all sources of information when it comes to what’s going on in Xinjiang on a human rights basis or anywhere else. Our Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, our Bureau of Global Criminal Justice, our Office of the Legal Adviser, INR – a number of other entities are constantly looking at those inputs.

But Secretary Blinken has been very clear, and he has the prerogative to say this: What has taken place in Xinjiang constitutes genocide.

QUESTION: No, I just want to know if there was a separate, new determination by this administration since January 20th that it is a genocide, or if you’re just agreeing with the previous administration’s, which I – I just want to know —

MR PRICE: Secretary Blinken came to that conclusion on the basis of the information he was receiving as a close advisor to the President-elect.

QUESTION: Prior to becoming Secretary?

MR PRICE: Well, he mentioned it in his confirmation hearing, which took place prior to January 20th.

QUESTION: Thank you.

MR PRICE: But we are constantly evaluating and reviewing what is going on so that we can shine a spotlight on human rights abuses and ultimately hold to account those who would perpetrate them.

Thank you very much. We’ll do it again tomorrow.

(The briefing was concluded at 3:24 p.m.)

U.S. Department of State

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